Dawn Light — Currituck NWR, NC © jj raia

Dawn Light — Currituck NWR, NC © jj raia

For anyone standing before an expansive view, no matter what time of day, that view is enhanced exponentially with the presence of clouds which reinforces the notion that our world can continually take our breath away. For a landscape photographer, clouds always provide a point of anticipation of “an event” materializing as the sun rises or sets, knowing full well that nothing may happen, or what had shown such promise, had fizzled miserably.

On a recent trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, I was fortunate to have several opportunities to shoot a sunrise or sunset where clouds were plentiful; but their presence did not always guarantee success. One particular morning was simply amazing, with otherworldly colors on multiple cloud layers. But that sunrise proved to be too chaotic; where there was simply too much going on, without a central focus or foreground interest to initially draw a viewers eye (see below).

Majestic Dawn — Corolla Beach, NC © jj raia

Majestic Dawn — Corolla Beach, NC © jj raia

Sometimes, it is the more simplistic scene that may make for a better image. The frame above may be more focused in a vertical or square format, with the sweep of the red, central clouds mimicking the gentle, leading line of the surf. But the simplicity of the photo at the top makes it easy for a viewer to “walk” into the scene. The small swirl of surf surrounding the buried branch sets the stage for the advancing surf in the middle ground, and then on to the cloud bank along the horizon. What’s lacking in the second image is a strong foreground that provides an immediate focal point leading further into the frame. Unfortunately, at this location there were no buried tree stumps.

The image below shows that same scene as that at the top, but much earlier in the sunrise progression. This image is composed of two separate frames; the sky and clouds were taken first, feeling that the strong color wouldn’t last much longer, allowing more time to take several frames in succession, for an interesting foreground without much of the sky in the frame at all. Since not every wave aligns well with your intentions for the final image, having the sky properly focused and exposed “in the can”, I was free to take many more frames for a foreground while the light was similar in color, to combine later in post-processing. Each half was focused at the proper distance avoiding any possible softness of any elements, especially in the sand, and virtually doubled the information the camera sensor would have otherwise provided in a single image, making for a higher quality file.

Buried Snag at First Light — Currituck NWR, NC © jj raia

Buried Snag at First Light — Currituck NWR, NC © jj raia

As the sun rose higher in the sky, this area of beach provided several interesting, highly eroded, tree stumps for subject matter. And depending on the tide, some will be beyond the reach of the ocean, and some completely submerged. My first hike to this area resulted in none of them being visible at all. So I had to wait a few days, hoping for another chance at including them in a photo when the tide was lower. The second visit was well worth the effort, but a price was paid at the end, when the clouds became a bit more ominous, and having to hike back the 1.5-miles back to the car in the rain.

Surging Surf — Currituck NWR, NC © jj raia

Surging Surf — Currituck NWR, NC © jj raia

As is usually the case, the hardest part of taking these images was simply getting up and out to take advantage of what the weather and conditions have to offer. A pair of waders certainly helps, too! But not always. For the most part, the surf was no more than ankle deep, and being in the surf was of no concern. But…a sleeper wave came in, with the water just going over the tops of the waders, and nearly knocking me over. It was a tense few moments managing to remain upright, and luckily, with only a few drops of ocean water reaching the camera.

One thought on “Clouds

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